July 10, 2015
If Reddit were based in Canada, would the police have shut it down and arrested the owners?
Reddit is an online community made up of hundreds of discussions groups, covering everything from kittens to politics. It famously hosts Ask Me Anything forums, where luminaries — including Barack Obama and Bill Gates — agree to answer anything.
My own, admittedly limited, experience with Reddit has found the people who use it to be generally well-mannered, perhaps a bit snarky sometimes, but certainly not offensive.
Unfortunately, there are darker recesses to Reddit, if you have the stomach to explore them. Believe it or not, there is one subreddit called CoonTown, where members routinely spout the most vile racist garbage you can imagine.
The attitude of management is that everyone is entitled to their “opinion” as long as they don’t act on it in a way that leads to a crime being committed. This appears to keep the San Franscisco-based Reddit in line with hate laws in the United States.
Those laws tend to look at whether a crime, such as an assault, was motivated by prejudice based on the victim’s race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. If so, the justice system might go harder on you. In other words, it appears that you can talk about killing black people all you want as long as you don’t actually do it.
The laws in Canada make it unlikely that you could get away with that. The Criminal Code considers it an indictable offence to promote hatred against any identifiable group. You could wind up in jail for up to two years if convicted.
Also, the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.” In 2009, the act was used to shut down a website with controversial comments about Roma, Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, blacks and Arabs.
This leads me to conclude that Reddit could not exist in Canada — at least not in its present form.
Because they lack similar laws, Americans are reduced to writing articles such as this one — Reddit Is An Incubator Of Hate — that are essentially a plea for sanity. If people are allowed to promote racism, then of course there will be other people who act on it. This shouldn’t be hard to figure out.
Things are so out of control at Reddit, that the CEO was forced to resign after a week of unrelenting attacks over the firing of a popular employee. And, as sadly expected, much of the “criticism” against Ellen Pao was racist and misogynist.
Reddit is steeped in a culture where the people in charge are afraid to do the right thing because the mob could turn on them. Already some members — miffed by even a hint of enforced civility — have moved on to other forums.
No doubt, the owners hope Reddit doesn’t meet the same fate as Digg, which 10 years ago was the most popular forum on the Internet. It fell into disrepute and is now a shadow of its former self. Reddit managers are in the impossible position of needing to find a way to keep everyone happy — including the haters ruining the forum’s reputation.